Happy Easter Sunday! Hope you’re all having a relaxing weekend, indulging in chocolate, binging your fave series, and catching up with your friends and family.
Today I’ll be sharing my review of Black Iris by Elliot Wake (writing as Leah Raeder). This book was published in 2015, and has been on my TBR since I first heard about it a few years ago. I finally decided to read it after enjoying Unteachable last year. Read on to find out my thoughts of Black Iris:
The next dark and sexy romantic suspense novel from the USA Today bestselling author of Unteachable.
It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn’t worth sticking around for.
If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.
She’s not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.
But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it’s time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.
Which was the plan all along.
Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.
She’s going to show them all.
Black Iris is the second book I’ve read by American author Elliot Wake. It falls into the New Adult genre, and centres on a teenager called Laney who ventures off to college in the hope that she’ll be able to escape her past. She quickly befriends Blythe and Armin, the first ‘real’ friends she’s had in a long time, and things start to look up. Unfortunately, someone from Laney’s past re-enters the picture, and she’s drawn into a game of revenge.
“I was a precision-engineered explosive, in perfect control of my own self-destruction”
“I am a creature with a vast capacity for patience, and for violence. For watching. For waiting. For taking the moment only when it is perfect and sure. I’m a hunter like my mother, patient and watchful and still, my fangs full of black venom. There is a terrible thing tucked inside me raring to lunge forth into the light. And I’m just waiting for that perfect moment. Just waiting. Just waiting.”
It’s clear from the start that Laney is a troubled teen. She’s involved in arson, shoplifting and vandalism, and was arrested for stealing makeup and perfume. Like her mother, Laney has an addictive personality and becomes obsessed with Blythe and Armin, to the point where she stalks them on social media and seems to know everything about them, even their horoscopes and college schedules. What irked me about Laney is the fact that she’s so difficult to connect with. She’s so intent on destroying herself and has so many unhealthy relationships. I really wasn’t keen on Laney’s friendship with Zoeller: he treated her like dirt and she acted like it wasn’t even a big deal. There were times when I rooted for Laney and Blythe, but their relationship was so toxic and they’re both very manipulative.
“Girls love each other like animals. There is something ferocious and unself-conscious about it. We don’t guard ourselves like we do with boys. No one trains us to shield our hearts from each other. With girls, it’s total vulnerability from the beginning. Our skin is bare and soft. We love with claws and teeth and the blood is just proof of how much. It’s feral.”
As with Unteachable, Black Iris is a mature book that touches on difficult subjects such as slut-shaming and bullying. It is told in the first person, from Laney’s point of view, and explores the idea of the unreliable narrator. The novel has an irregular timeframe, which aims to unsettle and confuse the reader. It is difficult to follow at first, but things start to make more sense as the novel progresses.
“Falling for someone is like pulling a loose thread. It happens stitch by stitch. You feel whole most of the time even while the seams pop, the knots loosen, everything that holds you together coming undone. It feels incredible, this opening of yourself to the world. Not like the unraveling it is. Only afterward do you glance down at the tangle of string around your feet that used to be a person who was whole and self-contained and realize that love is not a thing that we create. It’s an undoing.”
Despite its unlikeable characters and intense scenes, Black Iris has beautiful lyrical writing. I was constantly taking photos of quotes I liked (I read the paperback version so I couldn’t highlight anything). Black Iris is such a vivid and realistic portrayal of addiction and mental illness. Most of the characters in Black Iris have some form of mental illness or addiction, and the book shows how these issues affect the person suffering from them and the other people in their life. Black Iris also depicts the harsh realities of being LGBTQ+: Laney is coming to terms with her sexuality and her classmates make this difficult for her by throwing insults at her. The quote below summarises how LGBTQ+ people like Laney feel perfectly:
“If I was gay, I wouldn’t need an asterisk beside my name. I could stop worrying if the girl I like will bounce when she finds out I also like dick. I could have a coming-out party without people thinking I just want attention. I wouldn’t have to explain that I fall in love with minds, not genders or body parts. People wouldn’t say I’m ‘just a slut’ or ‘faking it’ or ‘undecided’ or ‘confused.’ I’m not confused. I don’t categorize people by who I’m allowed to like and who I’m allowed to love. Love doesn’t fit into boxes like that. It’s blurry, slippery, quantum. It’s only limited by our perceptions and before we slap a label on it and cram it into some category, everything is possible.”
It seems like I’m not alone in my conflicting thoughts about Black Iris, with lots of reviewers agreeing that it was full of clichés and the violence was a bit OTT. While I did enjoy Black Iris (and Unteachable) to some extent, I won’t be rushing to read any of Elliot Wake’s other books. Sure, Black Iris and Unteachable do have poetic writing, but the graphic nature of some scenes are a bit off-putting. I’d give Black Iris a rating of 3 out of 5 stars.
What are you reading over the Bank Holiday weekend? Have you read Black Iris or anything by Elliot Wake? Let me know in the comments!